In early learning, quality counts. Here’s what to look for
Choosing a safe, nurturing and engaging environment outside of the home for your infant or young child is one of the most difficult and important decisions any working parent can make. And with so many different options, from in-home care providers to child care centers, it’s no wonder parents can become overwhelmed.
When looking for an early learning program for your infant, toddler or preschooler, quality counts. A good rule of thumb is to start by identifying a program with highly qualified professionals who are focused on helping your child grow and develop through a rich learning environment. Whether you do your research on the web or are referred by a friend, schedule a visit with at least two providers so you can ask questions and compare what you see and hear.
Here are some key things to consider when choosing a high-quality early learning program that will support your child’s development and set him or her up for success later in life:
- Experienced teachers are key
Spend time with teachers and the center director and make sure they are qualified, engaged, and can provide a rich learning experience that will help your child develop the skills he/she will need in school and beyond. Also, look for a low teacher-to-student ratio allowing teachers to focus on individual learning styles and needs of each child. Finally, you’ll want to be comfortable with how the program communicates with families to keep them informed about their child’s progress.
- The curriculum supports the whole child
Look for developmentally appropriate curriculum and a language-rich environment that support your child’s social, emotional, physical and cognitive growth in a fun, engaging way. For an infant, look for lots of personal interaction and attention, including singing, reading and finger play, as well as the chance for babies to explore their environment and develop their mobility and senses. For older children, make sure the curriculum provides a combination of teacher-guided lessons, independent exploration and hands-on activities that look like – and are – fun but also help develop early literacy, math, social, and fine and gross motor skills.
- Your child’s health and safety should be top of mind
When visiting a quality early learning program, check to see if classrooms are arranged so children can navigate them independently and if materials and supplies are age appropriate. Look for evidence of secure drop-off and pick-up procedures, and find out if the staff is certified in CPR/first aid and how often training is updated. Also check out the outdoor play area to make sure it is safe and fully fenced.
- Accredited programs demonstrate commitment to rigorous standards
Check to see if the program is accredited. Accredited programs go beyond a state’s minimum licensing requirements and meet rigorous national standards in health, safety, administration, teacher qualifications, curriculum, communication, and community involvement.
Additionally, you’ll want to make sure the program meets your family’s needs in regards to location, hours, cost, nutrition, and overall fit. Your child’s development will be shaped by his or her experiences during these early years, so it’s important to make the right choice.